October 25th, 2016

We had a short stay of only two days in Kolkata, India.  We stayed at the MCC Guest House with the MCC Reps serving as our hosts.  We walked to the “flower market” our first morning.  We walked through small streets in the early morning as vendors were setting up their wares.  We stopped at an old Armenian Church.  The original wooden church was built in 1688 but burned down; the present structure was built in 1724.  The church and its grounds reminded us of the Armenian Church in Old Dhaka.  Flowers arrive in the morning and vendors buy and take to sell in other parts of the city.  Flowers are used in many aspects in the Hindu religion.  We stopped by the Hooghly River which is a branch of the Ganges through this part of India.  Crossing the river at this point is the Howrah Bridge, the third longest cantilever bridge in the world.  Across the river is a huge train station.  We brought a tram back to the Guest House.

We had a good walk in the Botanical Gardens.  The main attraction is a mammoth banyan tree thought to be at least 250 years old.  The main trunk rotted away in 1925 but it continues to live with its aerial roots.  When the trunk was removed it was 50 feet in circumference.  The present canopy occupies more than 1500 feet in circumference.  It is huge!  We also saw the giant water lily pads—like we saw in Chiang Mai.  They can be up to 1 feet in diameter.

We attended St James Church Sunday morning, a high Anglican service.  Afterwards we visited St Mother Teresa’s Mother House.  We visited the museum and her final resting spot.

We roamed the Victoria Memorial.  The grounds are well-cared for “colonial British” gardens.  The marble monument was completed in 1921.  We could only visit the first floor and photos were not allowed inside.  There is a large gallery of oil paintings and watercolors from the 19th century illustrating the lives and time period of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.   The other half of the museum tells the history of Kolkata from mid 1600’s to the partition of India in 1947 and on through to the 1970s.  A fascinating collection but far too much information to retain!  There was even a life-size diorama of a street in Kolkata in the late 1800s.

We stopped in at St Paul’s, the Mother Church of the diocese of Kolkata in the Church of North India.  The architecture was very different than we normally see.


In the evening we visited Birla Mandir, a Hindu temple built of marble in the late 20th century by an industrialist family.  Again no photos but a fascinating temple and especially beautiful at night when it is lit up.  Inside are statues to several of the deities – Krishna, Radha, Durga, Shakti, and Shiva.  There were many people paying their respects and/or just enjoying the site.


Botanical Gardens … and more

October 7th, 2016

We spent a wonderful morning with an MCC office colleague.  We often complain about the noise and chaos of traffic and people here in Dhaka.   But this time we were in the Botanical Gardens far away from traffic noise and among the tall quiet trees.  Our morning included a few other places.

Bangladesh is getting ready for the Hindu festival – Durga Puja.  We stopped first at a Hindu temple where we saw several of the gods.  However, the main god will not be unveiled until later in the day.  An interesting encounter was with the man who explained the temple; he knew MCC!

We then went to the Gardens.  Our colleague is a bird watcher and knows Bangladesh nature.  He told us the names of birds we heard or saw and the plants/trees.  Fascinating.  However, we don’t remember all the names.  We have only one photo of a bird (we didn’t have our long lens) but we saw beautiful woodpeckers and orioles, along with more common birds.  We also saw and heard a colony of bats.  Huge bats – wing span of a meter

We then went for a ride in a small boat/canoe on the river.  Fun

We traveled from our flat to the various places by CNG, the 3-wheeled “box” — if you could reach through the window grates, you could touch the vehicles beside you.  (CNG stands for Compressed Natural Gas – their fuel.)

Chiang Mai

October 4th, 2016

The Asia Leadership Team (ALT) had their semi-annual meetings in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the last week of September.  ALT is made up of MCC Reps from Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Viet Nam plus the two area director couples.  This time three persons of the US and Canada offices joined. There were 2 ½ days full of meetings, plus another ½ day and other scheduled individual meetings.

The meetings were held in a resort which was beautiful.  We had a half day “field trip” to a botanical gardens.  The two of us also visited the neighborhood Buddhist Temple. The last night together we dined at a restaurant next to the river.

We had a good time visiting with colleagues and enjoying the various trips.  Oh yes, we didn’t take photos but we did visit the night market one night and another night we had a Thai massage.

Trip north (2)

September 17th, 2016

From Bogra we drove to Mymensingh.  (See map of previous blog.)    We met with the leader of Pobitra, an organization we had previously visited.  Pobitra works with 20 women (former sex workers) for a year in helping them learn life skills and trade skills.  We are not allowed to show faces so only have photos of the “teachers.”  Sometime I hope we are there to see the women at work.  In the evening we took a walk along the river front in Mymensingh—the Brahmaputra River.  There were many people socializing and relaxing and/or taking boat trips along the river.

The following day we drove to Baromari Catholic church.  Again we were welcomed by singing, dancing, and beautiful flowers.  MCC has partnered with this church for many years, especially through the Global Family program.  We visited the school and Ron had fun at the blackboard in their math class.  We also visited the girls’ dorm and talked with them briefly.


MCC is beginning a new five-year project in this area which will focus on food security and health and peace education.  We drove to one of the communities where a women’s group is just being formed.  They gave us a grand welcome with singing accompanied by various musical instruments and flowers.  The group told us how they are organized, what they hope they learn, and some of their concerns.  After the formal meeting, Sally Jo asked to see the harmonium.  This instrument is often used here in Bangladesh but we have never had a chance to see it up close.  That led to the women singing more traditional songs and dancing.  (You may have seen the Facebook post of Sally Jo dancing. )


The women also showed us some of their water pumps.  There is a problem with water in this area because of a rock bed.  The water pipes need to be drilled to about 50 metres or more because shallow pipes can bring up water which contains arsenic.  They also showed us a homestead where elephants have come and damaged their crops.  At this point we were only 1 or 2 km from the India border and elephants don’t seem to understand international boundaries!  We missed taking a photo of the “Watch out for elephants” sign!

We drove back to the Catholic Mission for a hike and lunch.  We were accompanied the whole day with four armed policemen for security.  We didn’t ask for the protection, but it is their job to make sure foreigners are safe.

At the mission the Catholic Sister said to follow her.  She didn’t really say where we were going or what we were doing.  We ended up hiking up a hill following the fourteen “Stations of the Cross.”   (It was a good hike—more exercise than we have had in the last three months!  It also was extremely hot and humid.) At the end of the hike we saw the huge statue of St. Mary which was created by a Muslim artist.  At the end of October, about 10,000 people come to pray and celebrate in this area.

The following day in Mymensingh we visited Sacred Mark Enterprise (SME) which is a business begun by MCC but now is a private company.  They make seven varieties of soap and various recycled sari products.  (We had visited them on an earlier trip but at that time were unable to see the women at work.)  The owner was part of MCC for 20 years and helped to develop the soap.  The women are mostly former sex workers who have previously spent a year with Probitra.  At first she was worried about taking on the leadership because of the harassment of employing these women.  However, she was encouraged by family, friends, and MCC and is now “family and counselor” to the producers.  She has 33 fulltime workers and about 50 part-time.

We also visited Shanti Mitra “Friends of Peace.”  This organization began in 2007 and is sponsored by MCC and the Taize Brothers.  They work mainly with young people.  (The group of young people meeting when we were there were talking about social media.)  The organization does a lot with interfaith dialogue and peace education through creative art, drama, music.  It is important to work with young people but it is also important to work with the religious leaders who have great influence over the youth.  Shanti Mitra tries to invite these leaders to meetings and dialogues.  (We had also visited here before but each time we learn more.)

It was fun to introduce our International Program Director to some of the projects here in Bangladesh.  This was his first trip to the country.  We think he also was inspired – just as we are every time we visit projects – at what MCC has done, is doing, and hopes to do.  But we also all learn of the challenges.

Scenes travelling

September 14th, 2016

As we travel we see so many fascinating things along the road.  Sometimes we can get a quick photo and sometimes we can’t. Here we have added photos of a few sights from this trip.

On the first day we saw two elephants walking down the road ahead of us.  Even though it was pouring rain, we managed to get a “sort of” photo as we drove alongside it.  Elephants are not very common in Bangladesh except in the border areas with India so it was surprising to see one when we did.

It was interesting to see the change in the rice fields from when we traveled a month ago.  Then we saw mostly newly planted rice.  This time we saw fields of bright green growing rice — beautiful.  We even saw the hills of India!  (The first time we saw any elevation in Bangladesh.)  In one area we passed large areas where they were drying rice.  They usually spread it out on a large concrete area and often walk through it to stir the rice.  They then rake it in to long rows before bagging it.

One day we saw a bookmobile!  What a joy!

When we returned to Dhaka, we were in time to see all the women leaving work at the garment factories at the end of the day.  As you may see from the tags on clothes in the US stores, many clothes are sewn here.  It is a huge industry.  It was reported in a recent article that in 2015 the garment industry accounted for 82% of Bangladesh’s exports.

We saw rivers which were low because India had closed a dam (all rivers come though India.)  And we saw rivers in other places where the water was very high and the brick kilns were surrounded.  In other areas sand was being dug from the river for concrete.

And sometimes we just see interesting things!

Trip north (1)

September 13th, 2016


We recently spent six days “on the road” with our Area Directors and the International Program director from Winnipeg visiting several projects.  There were many hours on the road between projects, but that is the reality here.  This map shows where we went.  The red stars are the towns and the green circles are the approximate location of the churches.  We spent our first night in Bogra.

Our first stop was at a Catholic Mission.  We were welcomed by singing and presentation of flowers.  We found this wherever we visited—singing and flowers.  It is a nice welcome!  The St Francis of Assisi Church of Dhanjuri was established in the 1940s.  It’s a beautiful church.  Attached to the mission is a leprosarium and a hostel for disabled children both of which we visited.  We drove down some slippery narrow roads until eventually, we needed to get out and walk to a village.  There we visited a Peace club meeting and one woman who had been given a cow and had bettered her life.  The peace club includes community members of diverse faiths, mainly Muslim, Hindu, and Christian, who meet regularly to discuss common concerns. We spent the night in Dinajpur.  We had a delicious supper of fresh chipatis and chicken kebabs.

The following day we visited another village.  This time again, the car could not drive all the way to the village but we rode a flat-bed rickshaw for several kms.  We stopped to visit a community training meeting where the women were learning about growing vegetables.  The lesson was on recognizing good and bad seeds.  MCC does not provide seeds but does a lot of education so that women can grow better crops.  Even though MCC has a group of women that we work with especially, the trainings are for anyone who wants to attend.  Men also sometimes come.  Afterwards we stopped at one of the homes of a woman who was given a bull and has been successful.  We learned that though it is culturally inappropriate to own a bull, she is willing to do so. She also has begun to raise rabbits, chickens, grass for her animals, and does composting.

We stopped at Peace playground initiated by MCC.  This one is quite large and is close to a school.  The children said they like to play there.  In one of the rondavels a small Peace club was meeting; they have been meeting for about three years.  Because of what they have learned they are doing things for the community.  They have gathered clothes to give to those poorer than they.  They have helped fill potholes in the road.  They are planning activities for the community for World Peace Day.  It was good to see such an active and excited group.

We had lunch at the Catholic Church with whom we partner in this area.  Again we were welcomed by singing and flowers.

On our way back to Bogra we stopped in Saidpur to see a company called Action Bag.  It was started in 1991 by MCC but is now privately owned.  The owner is doing a worldwide business and has just moved into a large new building.  They were in the process of filling a large order for jute bags for Ten Thousand Villages.  They also make various types of bags from recycled saris.  And they are beginning to do some screen printing.

We took a side trip to visit an 18th century Hindu temple, Kantaji Temple.  This beautiful temple is dedicated to Krishna and his wife Rukmini. It was completed in 1752.  It has beautiful terracotta architecture.  One website describes the terracotta this way:

Terracotta Decoration available in every inch of its wall surface both inside and out depict flora and fauna, the exploits of Krishna, the stories of the Mahabharata (Mahabharata and the Ramayana), favorite pastimes of the landed aristocracy. The amazing profusion, modeling have seldom been surpassed by any mural art of its kind in Bengal. One can observe here a carefully arranged thematic scheme at different levels and spaces on the temple wall.


Bronze artist

August 30th, 2016

We visited a brass maker using the “lost-wax” method of producing bronze figures. Fascinating!  These are not mass-produced products; each one is individually created and moulded.  Briefly, the process requires a person to create the object out wax.  (Here they use beeswax and paraffin.)  They then cover it with three different layers of clay.  The first is very thin and is painted on the object.  The second is thicker, while the third is even thicker.  Two air pipes are created in the piece.  The object is then left to dry.  The object is baked in a fire; the wax eventually melts and runs out through the pipes.  At the appropriate time, the object is taken from the fire and the hot metal is poured in through the air vent from which the wax flowed out.  The object cools.  When completed the outside clay mould is chipped off.  It is then that the artist knows for sure what the object will look like.  Various things may go wrong and the artist may lose his creation!  But if the moulding is successful, an original, unique object has been created.  The artists produce mainly Hindu and Buddhist objects.

Beside the captivating process of the art, the story of this Hindu family is also interesting.  The man who is now the owner is the fifth generation brass maker still working in the original home.  However, there have been disruptions along the way.  During the War of Independence (1971), the family had to flee to India.  The mother told of the journey which was mainly by walking and by boat.  She had 6 year old and 25 month old children.  They often walked at night—completely quiet—to avoid conflicts.  They hid during the day.

After the war was over, they returned to their home only to find that their Muslim neighbours had taken over the house and destroyed much of it.  Through a legal process, they were able to get their home back.  However, many of the villagers are still not friendly, and they do live in fear.

They have an additional problem now—selling their objects.  It is very difficult to export because of regulations.  He said that recently, it took 1½ years to get a permit to export a shipment of 100 pieces.  This is original art and is not inexpensive!  They rely a great deal on tourism.  However, since the recent terrorist acts, tourism has dropped dramatically.  They are unsure of their future.


Young people

August 29th, 2016

One of the joys of our work in the various country MCC offices has been to meet young people who have been or are going to different countries/cultures.  Recently, we were part of the sending of two young Bangladeshis—one to Ohio, US, and one to Jos, Nigeria.  We held short orientations for them before they left.  We visited both of them in their homes with their families.  The parents are happy for this opportunity for their children but sad to have them leave for a year.

Pr is with the IVEP program and working in Millersburg, Ohio.  We had a short time with her parents and brother the day before she left.  She had never traveled outside of this country.  It will be fun to meet her again in the US.  (The only photo we have of her family is blurry, but we included it anyway.)

T is with the YAMEN program (MCC/MWC combined program) and is working in Jos, Nigeria.  She is the first YAMEN person to go from Bangladesh and all of MCC was rooting for her, even though we had a difficult time getting her visa.  We were able to join a prayer service for her in her home with her pastor, family, and friends which was followed by a meal.  Several days later we went along to the airport with her.  She has come through some difficult times recently, losing her father in April.  Because of this loss, her mother, especially, felt the anxiety/headache of her daughter’s departure for a year.

Old Dhaka (2)

August 16th, 2016

(continuing our historical tour)

In Mughal period, Sheikh Enayet Ullah, a landlord, acquired a very big area and built a beautiful palace.  Around 1740 A.D., the son of the Sheikh sold the property to French traders. The French became very wealthy doing business here in competition with the English. However, in the English-French war, French were defeated and all their properties was captured by the English. For the next 40 years the property switched back and forth between the French and the British several times.  Finally, in 1830 the French were forced to leave subcontinent. They sold all their properties in Dhaka. A trader, Khwaja Alimullah purchased the property.  After his death his son named the property “Ahsan Manzil” for his son Ahsan Ullah.

In the evening of 7th April, 1888, a great tornado/cyclone hit Dhaka city causing great damage. Ahsan Manzil was greatly damaged and abandoned. After the death of Khwaja Ahsanullah in 1901, the glory of Ahsan Manzil was ended. His successors couldn’t maintain it.  They rented different parts of the palace to tenants, who actually made it a slum. In 1952 the goverment acquired the property and in 1985, Dhaka National Museum made it a museum.

We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum.  There are beautiful vaulted ceilings, large wooden stairs leading to the second floor with carved bannisters, marble rooms, and colourful ceramic tiles on the floors.  While we visited inside a downpour arrived outside and we were unable to visit the grounds.  Our guide and none of the websites I read, could explain why the palace is painted pink.  It is—and so is commonly called the “Pink Palace.”

We walked to some places and in one area the school children were lining the streets forming a “human chain against terrorism.”  There were several hundred children.  Our photos only show the boys’ line but later we also saw girls forming a “human chain.”

We explored what is known as Hindu Street. Hindu Street has been inhabited by Indian artisans for nearly 300 years.  The street looks like any other in Old Dhaka; narrow, packed with people, and dirty.  The buildings have been inhabited by the artisans for centuries, are in serious disrepair, and appear not to have been renovated for just as long.  Lining this street of weathered facades are shops selling traditional instruments, jewelry made from conch shells, and bouquets of marigolds.  Along the street at various places are Hindu temples where worshippers gather in front of ornate statues.

Sadarghat River Port, on the river Burigangais (Old Ganges), is one of the most vibrant places in Dhaka. Here, the Sadarghat Launch Terminal is one of the largest river ports in the world. About 200 large and small passenger launches depart and arrive at the terminal every day. According to the officials at the terminal, 30,000 people, on average, use the terminal for departure and arrival daily. Visiting this place was pandemonium.

The River Buriganga, though smelly and muddy, is the lifeblood of Old Dhaka. There are large river ferries, overladen with people and local produce, with loading and unloading activities to ramshackle warehouses on the riverfront. Triple-decked ferries are docked along the side of the jetty while small wooden boats ply their trade in between.

Among all the large ships are the tiny wooden boats which cross the river with their single oarsman standing at their bows.  We were scheduled to ride one of these boats, but because of the rain and the lateness of the day, we did not.  There are some very luxurious launches and steamers here. These are the commercial transport to the southern part of Bangladesh.

We travelled to Old Dhaka by car from our home but then rode rickshaws between most of the sites.  Chaos!  Jams!


Old Dhaka

August 15th, 2016

Apologies to all those who are not interested in history!  (The following blog(s) is heavy on history!) However, knowing a brief outline of Dhaka’s history helped us understand the sites which we recently saw on a tour of Old Dhaka.

Dhaka is the capital and one of the oldest cities of Bangladesh. The history of Dhaka begins with the existence of urbanised settlements in the area that is now Dhaka dating from the 7th century CE. The city area was ruled by a Buddhist kingdom before passing to the control of a Hindu dynasty in the 9th century CE.  In the early 14th century Islam was introduced and Dhaka was successively ruled by the Turkic and Afghan governors before the arrival of the Mughals in 1608.  The city passed to the control of the British East India Company in 1772 and British ruled the region for the next 150 years until the independence of India. In 1947, Dhaka became the capital of the East Bengal province under the dominion of Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Dhaka became the capital of the new state.

The Dhakeshwari Hindu temple was probably built in the 12th century (legends vary).  The original 800-year old temple was destroyed during the 1971 War of Independence by the invading Pakistani army.  The temple complex has undergone repairs, renovation and rebuilding in its long years of existence and its present condition does not resemble the original.  It is now state-owned and considered the most important Hindu place of worship in Bangladesh.

There are four small temples of the same size and shape.  Each of them is built on a platform approached by a flight of steps and inside has an abstract representation of the deity Shiva on a pedestal.  On another side of the area stands the main temple.  It is a three-roomed structure with a veranda.  In the central room stands a large Shiva deity with icons of Rama and Sita in the rooms on either side.

Bangladesh is home to over 15 million Hindus, representing under 10% of the country’s population.

The Khan Mohammad Mirza Mosque was constructed during 1704–05 AD by Khan Muhammad Mirza. The Mosque is built on a raised area about 17 feet above ground level. Beneath the mosque are rooms which were used for living purposes. There is a stairway from the ground which ends with a gateway aligning the central doorway of the mosque proper.  One thing that is different about this mosque is that it stands alone with no other buildings attached.  This allows plenty of space for worshipers on all sides and for free-flow of air.  The building was recently painted which covered the intricate carvings that had adorned the exterior walls.

Lalbagh Fort is an incomplete but renowned fort and a great work of art by the Mughal Empire in Bangladesh from the 17th century.  Mughal prince Muhammad Azam started work of the fort in 1678 during his vice-royalty in Bengal. He stayed in Bengal for 15 months but did not complete it.  Shaista Khan became the new governor of Dhaka but in 1684, his daughter, Pari Bibi died at the fort. After her death, he started to think the fort was unlucky, and left the structure incomplete.  Among the three major parts of Lalbagh Fort, one is the tomb of Pari Bibi.

The Fort consists of 3 areas – the mosque, the tomb of Pari Bibi, and Palace – with a fortification wall around.  Recent excavations have revealed other structures including administration block, stables, etc.  There is also a drainage system for the entire fort and a roof-top garden with fountains and a water reservoir. The palace is a two-storied residence for the governor.  A large hamman (bath) is attached and we could see the underground room for boiling water.  The royal toilet is also here! The grounds of the fort are kept well-manicured.

Star Mosque was built in the late 18th to early 19th century by Mirza Golam Pir, a governor of Dhaka.  In early 20th century, Ali Jan Bepari, a local businessman, financed the renovation of the mosque adding a new verandah and in 1987 the Dept of Archaeology added two prayer rooms. The surface was redecorated with Chinitikri work (mosaic work of broken China porcelain pieces), a decorative style that was popular during the 1930s. All over the mosque the motif of stars dominate the decoration and so the mosque is called the Star Mosque (Tara Masjid in Bengali).  One can also see motifs of Mount Fuji, a crescent-and-star design, and floral designs on the glazed tiles

The Armenian Church (also known as Armenian Apostolic Church of the Holy Resurrection) reflects the existence of a significant Armenian community in the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. Following the domination of their homeland by Persian powers, Armenians were sent by their new rulers to the Bengal region for both political and economic reasons.  They came to Dhaka for business, trading in jute and leather.  The early Armenian settlers built a small chapel in the midst of their community graveyard. By the end of the 18th century the Armenian community had grown considerably and the chapel was found inadequate for the needs of the community.  So the chapel was replaced by the Holy Resurrection Church.

In the old graveyard a statue stands at the grave of Catachik Avatik Thomas. His wife brought the statue from Kolkata. It is inscribed with the words “Best of Husband.” Today the church is only used on Christmas and Easter.

(By the way, the day of our tour was cloudy, humid, & hot.  In some photos if we look bedraggled—we are!)